Three Innovative Schools from around the world:

My aim in this blog is simply to describe some innovative practice that is taking place in schools across the world. My assumption is that we can learn and reflect by examining what others do differently. Here I hope to provide enough information on the context and programmes of three schools to provide teachers and senior leaders with food for thought. Each school has an approach that should stimulate thought and discussion and give pause for thought on the possibilities of school education. This initial blog may become the first in an occasional series but for this first I have selected a school from Australia, a school from China and a school from Cambodia. They are three very different schools, each with a particular mission and focus, but each, in their different ways committed to a holistic approach to education: 

  1. Holistic education based on student wellbeing and blended, personalised learning: Melbourne Girls Grammar School, Australia  

(What drew me to this school was the impressive way the school has managed to develop a coherent and compelling approach to what is in some ways a traditional academic education with a personalised learning approach that places student wellbeing at its heart) 

  1. Leading edge Science education: Beijing No. 35 High School, China 

(A former colleague put me on to this school when he mentioned that he had attended a presentation by a school in China that had its own ‘wind tunnel’…what impressed is the way in which the school manages to incorporate cutting edge science into the curriculum)

  1. Leadership, Experiential and Problem-based learning: The Liger Academy, Cambodia 

(Hearing about a group of students who were developing a microsatellite led me to find more about this truly remarkable school in Cambodia – a school with an ambitious mission and very much a ‘modern’ approach to learning)

1. Holistic education based on student wellbeing and blended, personalised learning: Melbourne Girls Grammar School:

On the face of it, Melbourne Girls Grammar School might appear an unlikely candidate for innovative education, after all, it has a history stretching back over 125 years, became an Anglican Church school, has school uniform, a Latin motto (Nisi Dominus Frustra – everything is in vain without God) and high academic achievement… but this K-12 girls’ day and boarding school with over 1000 students has gained accolades for its innovative approach to student learning especially in grades 9-12 (years 10-13). There are a variety of reasons for these accolades but what impresses is not so much the specific innovations but the overall coherence of its educational approach. What is more, it is a school that has sought to provide real balance between the traditional and the modern, to balance  the desire to personalise the learning experience and support student autonomy without compromising on ‘traditional’ ‘academic’ progress, achievement and success. 

For the Senior Years (grades 9-12) there is a coherent, well thought-through, well-resourced, flexible and student-centred programme that, in words of the present principal, Toni Meath: ‘ promotes a progressive, contemporary community of practice…providing personalised, high quality curriculum, wellbeing and co-curricular programs that enable lifelong learning for every student …inspiring … and equipping [students] with the values, knowledge and skills to be ready to make their mark on the world’. The ambition for  MGGS graduates is for them to be ‘ethical women who have the courage and skills to work and think independently and who possess an enterprising mindset … agents of their own future, [with belief in] their capacity to influence and shape their world and have confidence in their own identity’.

Vision, Mission and Values 

The School’s VISION is:

Melbourne Girls Grammar aspires to develop ethical women of action. Through a focus on learning, research and innovation the school aims to be recognised by the local, the national and international community as a leading school in girls’ education.

The School’s MISSION is:

In the pursuit of the vision, Melbourne Girls Grammar is committed to the provision of an exceptional education for girls, with an emphasis on strong Christian values, high expectations, creativity and academic challenge. Within a supportive and optimistic culture the school provides opportunities for students to discover their passions and build their capacities for action and influence within their many life contexts.

The School’s VALUES are:

• Integrity

• Compassion

• Courage

• Self-discipline

The school’s student graduate profile is in the diagram below

In order to achieve this, the senior years programme has a holistic approach looking to develop the social, emotional, physical and academic well being of the students. There is a strong emphasis on student agency and empowerment. The educational model provides an integrated experience of academic, co-curricular and wellbeing programs. The approach aims to ensure the social, personal and environmental factors in each student’s life works together to maximise their learning and develop them as an independent, self-aware and resilient young adult. 

Curriculum, Staffing, Timetable, Co-curriculum, Technology, Accommodation are all designed to work together to support the educational model.

Wellbeing at the heart

Since 2008, Melbourne Girls Grammar has developed a significant research base to inform and develop their Wellbeing Model, Students entering Year 9 are part of a progressive, preventative and education-based wellbeing program that responds to the challenges young people are faced with today in the areas of:

  • Social connectedness
  • Mental health (including anxiety, depression, stress and perfectionism)
  • Physical health (sedentary behaviours, nutrition, sleep).

Curriculum: Combines flexibility, challenge and choice

The senior years are a time of increased autonomy within a defined, yet flexible structure with clear expectations. Students develop and manage their own Learning Plan. The school believes that when challenged, students will experience success in meeting and exceeding expectations. So the programmes are designed with this in mind and provide differing levels of conceptual and literacy challenges.Students move through these phases of learning at a pace and on the learning pathway that best meets their needs. 

The Senior Years academic curriculum is a four year learning continuum framed by two phases: Years 9 – 10 and Years 11 – 12. As students move into the Senior Years, they exercise full control over the structure and elements of their learning plan. In Years 9 and 10 they choose from standard, advanced and accelerated courses as they develop a pathway (with their pathway planning teachers) that aligns with their passions, talents and aspirations. It is an expectation that all girls will undertake at least one advanced course by the completion of Grade 10, however, they are able to select from advanced courses in all learning pathways. Students have access to an extensive curriculum and public exam offering, and over 55 different elective courses. In Grades 11 and 12, students choose from over 30 public exam course options.  Students move through these phases of learning at a pace and on a learning pathway that best meets their needs.

Staffing: organised to support and enhance student learning, progression and wellbeing

The Staff Team includes:

  • Expert Teachers – as you would expect, well-qualified subject and pedagogical experts and teachers
  • Academic Coaches

Along with expert teachers, Senior Years students also have access to a team of Academic Coaches. Academic Coaches are available to students in each learning pathway, to assist them with review, practice and application of learning. The Academic Coaches help girls with time management and organisation and, in the lead up to exams, support the girls by hosting exam preparation workshops and assisting in the creation of study schedules.

  • Wellbeing Coaches

The Wellbeing team brings together a group of professionals from diverse backgrounds, including counselling, elite sport, psychology and education.  Weekly, one-on-one wellbeing coaching is a vital component of the Senior Years Programme. During these sessions, students are empowered to identify their values, and to learn how to effectively balance all aspects of their spirituality, health, learning and relationships. 

Our Wellbeing Coaches are non-teaching staff, and are specifically involved in:

  • Coaching students to understand their wellbeing and proactively manage their wellbeing needs and goals
  • Guiding the student in optimising their opportunities, both academic and co-curricular
  • Tracking the student’s holistic progress
  • Engaging with Fit for Life Coaches

Students direct the course of their Wellbeing pathway with the guidance of their coach.

Through active listening and collaboration, coaches come together to design and implement small and full cohort group activities and programmes that are directly responsive to the needs of each cohort. Experiential learning is a vital component of group work and complements one-to-one coaching sessions. 

  • Wellbeing Co-ordinators (we might call them tutors)

The Senior Years Wellbeing Co-ordinators are responsible for the pastoral and academic stewardship of their students. Their role involves establishing a relationship of mutual respect and understanding with students and a supportive and guiding relationship with parents and guardians. They also play a crucial role in monitoring each student and her progress through the Senior Years. They analyse academic, wellbeing and physical engagement data and support the girls through one-to-one sessions targeting the development of strategies that support their learning, motivation and connectedness. Wellbeing Co-ordinators are the first point of contact for parents.

  • Pathways Planning Teachers  

These guide students in the academic pathways through the senior years taking strong account of the abilities, ambitions and interests of the students

  • Student Enterprise Manager

At the outset of Year 9, each student meets with the Student Enterprise Manager to develop their Enterprise Profile. The Student Enterprise Manager is responsible for the provision of opportunities that extend learning into local and global contexts. This remains an active experience throughout the four years of the Senior Years Program, building experiences and learning within four domains:

  • Learning beyond school – local and global opportunities, incorporating trips, exchanges, humanitarian initiatives, and passion-focused opportunities;
  • Careers Inspiration – An expansive domain, with a particular focus on internships that supplement and inform learning experiences beyond the academic domain;
  • Student Philanthropy – volunteer work is a highly valued component of our girls’ experiences, informing their understanding of active citizenship;
  • Leadership – this can be individual or team based, demonstrated through participation in enterprise opportunities and the broader co-curricular program.
  • Fitness Coaches

Fitness Coaches, who are qualified Exercise Physiologists and Strength and Conditioning Coaches, work with the girls to develop their personal plans and to teach them safe and effective techniques in optimising their physical literacy.

Organisation of teaching and learning/Timetable: flexibility to support personalised learning

To encourage self-management and self-regulation, the school has abandoned the notion of a ‘standard’ school day with its imposed timetable, and instead places responsibility on the student to shape their day. There are both fixed and flexible components to their days/week and students can shape their day/week according to the goals and priorities they have established with their teachers, wellbeing coaches and fitness coaches. 

The organising structure of the Senior Years Programme is a student’s personal learning goals. The aim is to know and understand a student’s goals and provide the level of support and feedback and the structural flexibility that will enable them to achieve their personal best.

There is a blended learning approach which allows for on-line learning, peer-to-peer learning, individual sessions, group work and class sessions (geared to the application of knowledge). 

Technology: deployed to support, empower and enhance student learning

In the Senior Years, the school prepares students for ‘the 4th Industrial Revolution’ and for contemporary tertiary and work environments by having access to a blended learning model that offers an online curriculum and an academic management system that provides a platform for each girl’s learning plan by developing the independence to learn in a mix of traditional and online environments, with a focus on critical and creative thinking. 

The Blended Learning model encompasses:

• Course design that allows for self pacing

• Online infrastructure enabling students to visualise their course progress

• Online resources that extend the learning beyond the classroom experience

Unlike the traditional educational approach where learning happens primarily in the classroom, students within the School’s blended learning model develop their knowledge via online curriculum content (designed by expert teachers), and a flexible timetable allows them to shape their day according to their own aspirations and priorities. In this model, the teacher is able to respond to individual students’ needs, with classroom learning becoming more focused on applying students’ knowledge. 

The online platform for student learning includes all key documentation pertaining to students’ course progression. Each course page is designed to support a learning narrative with stated learning outcomes and associated learning resources. Students monitor their progression through the course, set and adjust timelines and access stored teacher feedback. The digital learning database also provides educators with the information to monitor student progress and to inform future teaching.

BYOD: All students bring their own technology to the school to support their learning

Co-curriculum: Coherently planned opportunities to support well being and personal development

The school aims to develop students who have the confidence to shape their own lives.  The focus is on developing an entrepreneurial mindset and the schools aims to craft both learning and co-curricular experiences to encourage students to develop their identity as emerging global citizens and to be creative, resourceful, adaptable, team-oriented, and independent. 

Students can take part in a wide range of co-curricular activities in sport, Music the Arts and Dram as well as typical activities such as debating and MUN. However the school has further distinctive features that contribute fully to their holistic educational ambitions. These are ‘Student Enterprise Opportunities” and the ‘Fit for Life’  programme.

Student Enterprise Opportunities 

These include ‘global opportunities’, additional ‘vocational’ accreditations and internships. Globally, in addition to foreign exchanges and subject/language expeditions, there are science and enterprise tours, Service Learning and Physical challenge projects in Asia and Leadership summits. Accreditations include First Aid, Design Thinking and ‘personal branding and resume building’. Vocational internships are available both locally and internationally.

Fit for Life Programme

A physically active culture is the cornerstone to positive wellbeing.The basis of the Program is to personalise the sport and physical activity experience by developing personal wellbeing plans that consider a girl’s interests, motivations and goals.

The Fit for Life Program aims to:

• Promote regular exercise and movement as a foundation of healthy development and wellbeing

• Improve the physical fitness and athletic development qualities of all students

• Cater to and support the needs and interests of all students, from those aspiring to optimise their physical and health potential to the emerging and elite athlete

• Equip the students with the tools, skills, confidence and knowledge to be active

for life, to make healthy and informed decisions relating to their physical wellbeing, and to try new things in an ever-changing environment.

Accommodation:re-imagined to support the educational vision and approach

The buildings and physical resources of the school have all been designed/adapted to support the educational approach.Whilst there are, of course, classrooms and labs and specialist facilities there are also facilities to support the students in a variety of ways. For example, students have designated environments in which academic coaches and teachers are available to support their learning and peer-to-peer learning is facilitated. The accommodation is largely contemporary in design and supports one-to-one and small group coaching, guest speakers, lectures, seminars, independent learning and student displays. 

There is also the Artemis centre which was built and designed around the needs of the students and their wellbeing. The Artemis Centre is a community centre in which students can be physically active and pursue all-round wellbeing skills. The way the spaces work and the features, such as ‘me zones’, have been designed in response to how we know the students like to live and learn together. Facilities include a 25-metre swimming pool, basketball and netball courts, yoga and fitness studios, as well as learning, study and consultation spaces.

Find out more:

Much can be gleaned from the school’s website and its online documentation (see You might also look at this video, or the citations for innovation such as this.

2. Leading Edge Science Education: Beijing No. 35 High School

I have included this school not only because it is one of the schools at the forefront of educational development in China but mainly because of the innovative work it is doing in STEM education where it has deliberately placed itself to explore cutting edge science with its students.

Context: Beijing No 35 High School is a state school originally founded in 1923. It has three campuses – a Middle School and two High Schools (ages 15-17), one of which is ‘International’, with links to US and UK organisations. Its alumni include prominent members of the Communist party and scientists. In 2012 it became an ‘experimental school’ and has implemented curricula and pedagogical reforms.

General Ethos/Values: 

The stated ethos and values of the school may resonate with many schools in western cultures with an emphasis on a holistic approach as well as a concern for academic progress. There is also an explicit cultural transmission ambition. The school strapline is”

‘Honesty, Truth, Courage, Perseverance, Diligence, Beauty, Strictness, and Truth’. 

It seeks to be a “modern school with Chinese characteristics”, providing a comprehensive and personalised education whilst also meeting the needs of the future development of Chinese society and the state. 

The school aims to educate and develop innovative and talented students who will have: a sense of China and Chinese culture, a global/international outlook, respect for social justice and personal and social responsibility, abilities relevant to society needs, a scientific spirit and an enquiring mind. The school aims to provide teaching, courses and resources fo r students of different talents (personalised education). A main thrust is to provide training classes for developing talent for technological innovation, to which end it has strong links with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Its commitment to a more holistic education is indicated by the five certificates students are expected to achieve (beyond academic exams) in voluntary service, honesty, sporting ability, individual talent and personal accomplishment in innovation. 

Science Education:

What particularly interests me about his school is its commitment to STEM and in particular to innovative and cutting edge areas of science – and here the links with the Chinese Academy of Sciences is key. The most obvious manifestation of this is in its science resources and its laboratories. The visuals of this can be seen in this video:

The video describes the Science facility which has nine high end labs each dealing with aspects of largely cutting edge science. (Please note this information is translated from the Mandarin and if there are errors in the descriptors that is down to me):

  1. Exploration Lab for Astronautic Science and Technology: this includes areas for displaying and working with satellite data and information, satellite devices and demonstration areas to explore the Tiangong and Shenzhu 9 space station
  2. Exploration lab for Astronomical big data: for basic teaching about astronomy and with links to China’s National Observatory which enables teachers and students to work with and analyses the most uptodate observational data
  3. Exploration lab for Information Science and Technology, with a focus on use of artificial intelligence in  communications, transport (e.g. intelligent traffic systems), robotics, wireless networks
  4. Science Exploration lab for Bioinformatics that includes areas for biotech experiments including work on diseases and vaccination science
  5. Exploration lab for web and spatial information technology: this provides facilities for modeling and analysing spatial information including a digital spherical projector, a ‘digital earth’ display, and virtual reality facilities
  6. Exploration lab for Nano-techonoloy and Chemical visualisation, including various kinds of scanning equipment (such as atomic level resolution microscopes) to enable study of nano-technologies and materials
  7. Exploration lab for Aeronautic Science and Technology, including a flight simulator, 3D printing and laser cutters for making model aircraft
  8. A Wind Tunnel lab, linked with Beijing Aerospace University and Shenyang Aerospace University, to enable students to develop innovative ideas and try out their model aircraft
  9. A Big Data and Scientific Calculation Lab that has demonstration areas for experimental data, visualisation and mathematical models

More information can be found at the school’s website (though the Google translation is not always fluent!)

3. Leadership, Experiential and Project-based learning: The Liger Academy:

A couple of months ago I came across a news report about a student project to build a satellite … this was remarkable, what is more remarkable was that the students were from a small school in Cambodia – the Liger Leadership Academy.  Liger Leadership Academy, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is a unique and extraordinary school.  It is a six-year, full-scholarship, non-profit, non-political educational institution that provides a comprehensive, innovative internationally-competitive education focusing on an innovative STEM, leadership, experiential and entrepreneurship curriculum. It is the brainchild of two Americans – Trevor and Agnieszka Gile – who fell in love with Cambodia when visiting in 2002. Their ambitious mission is to equip a new generation with the capacity and drive to lead Cambodia’s future social and economic development. It aims to nurture highly-skilled entrepreneurial thinkers who are globally-minded, ethical, passionate and effective. 

The 110 students from the ages of 12-18 are selected from over 15,000 candidates from around Cambodia. 

Core values 

There are six core values that infuse the learning experiences of the students. They are:

  • Stewardship – being responsible for taking care of something considered worth caring for and preserving;
  • Integrity – being honest and having strong ethical principles;
  • Optimism – being hopeful and having confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something;
  • Appreciation – being able to recognise and enjoy the good qualities of someone or something;
  • Determination – being able to decide definitely and firmly;
  • Ingenuity – being clever, inventive, or resourceful especially when designing new things.  


Students do not follow a standardised curriculum and the learning experiences, informed by cutting-edge practice from around the world, include Essentials, Advanced Enrichments, Explorations and Expertise:

  • Essentials are the core curriculum covering English literacy, Khmer literacy, mathematics and science;
  • Advanced Enrichments help the junior students to develop an understanding of the world around them and provide a frame of reference for future long-term projects;
  • Explorations are project-based learning experiences focused on finding solutions to real world problems;
  • Expertise are learning experiences available to senior students to allow them to gain a deeper knowledge or expertise in areas of interest or excellence. The learning experiences are also geared to develop skills necessary for current or upcoming curriculum.


Teachers are called facilitators. They work alongside students to identify a problem or opportunity and design solutions, ideas, and products that address the problem. Learning specific content is deemed less important than gaining skills – such as design process, innovation skills, research and collaboration skills – that can be used both on campus and beyond. 

Project-based learning and Entrepreneurial Leadership Skills

Entrepreneurial Leadership skills are listed as:

  • Identification of opportunities
  • Vision and Influence
  • Management of operations
  • Assembling and motivating a team
  • Comfort with uncertainty
  • Building networks
  • Self-awareness
  • Problem-solving
  • Collaboration
  • Ability to join the dots/bring things together
  • Communication
  • Impact

The above are perhaps most apparent in the ‘explorations’ element of the learning experience at Liger Academy and these explorations are perhaps the most exciting and distinctive feature of the learning experience at Liger. The ‘explorations’ are inspired by the students and involve thorough research and planning, consultation and collaboration with outside agencies and work to a definite output; they may develop over several months or years. Explorations cover  a whole range of social, technological, cultural, business and other areas.

The range of projects and their ambition are impressive. Here is a flavour of some of them:

CubeSat: A group of senior students worked to develop the first Cambodian satellite in collaboration with advisers from Boeing, CalPoly, and other aerospace and environmental engineers. They designed a microsatellite to be launched into Lower Altitude Space.

Journeys of Change Bike Tour Business: Students used their knowledge of business planning and implementation to develop their own bike tour business. It has developed into a successful enterprise and runs bi-monthly bike tours.

Dengue Fever: Students investigated the incidence of dengue fever in Cambodia to identify the causes of recent outbreaks and ways to address it. They worked with local and international health organisations to educate the public. They also produced a risk analysis of dengue fever incidence and transmission in a local neighbourhood with recommendations for transmission prevention.

Solar Pi: Students planned, researched, installed and monitored two computer labs in government schools. One is run on solar power. They worked with the Ministry of Education, Edemy (which provides English software) and a solar power company.

Geography Publishing: Students researched, wrote and published a book about the geography of Cambodia

Drug Intervention: Students learned about drug awareness and intervention in Cambodia. Working with the NGO World Renew, they researched rehabilitation methods using therapy and vocational training. Having attended a government drug intervention workshop, they worked with World Renew to plan, organise and implement drug campaigns in 4 Cambodian provinces.

Liger Digital Currency: Students  researched, designed and implemented a system for transferring currency digitally between member sof the Liger community

Find out more:

The Academy’s website is impressive:  not only is there the standard information about the school and its approach, but under the tab ‘Impact’, you can not only read about different projects, but also read student essays, view interviews and access student portfolios – this really gives a flavour of what makes the school unique. 

The Opportunity for Real Change: End National Exams at 16

Why we must end national exams at 16 ….. and a golden opportunity for change

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” J. F. Kennedy 1961

A summary of notes for a contribution to the Latymer Upper School Symposium on Secondary Education Reform, April 2020

Who am I?

You most likely will not have heard of me. I am not a head, not a university academic, not an education blogger nor ‘influencer’ and not a writer of books on education (though I have written a couple of history books). However, I am a passionate educator with nearly 40 years experience in schools, as a teacher (11 years), middle leader (11 years), Academic Deputy Head (16 years) and, for the last 16 months,  working for  an educational charity. I am not writing as the representative of any organisation but as an individual educator. Most relevant perhaps to what I have to say is what I learned from my experiences in teaching and leading in schools, visiting and inspecting schools, both here and abroad  and in particular from my role as the Deputy Head (Academic) for 11and a half years here at Latymer Upper School. No doubt my perspective will be affected by my most recent experiences which have largely been in or with independent schools which are not so bound by constraints as state schools, but I hope my perspective may still be relevant. My focus will be largely on the academic route through secondary school – for which I feel able to make some informed commentary – rather than a vocational route though there will be overlaps, especially as I do not believe the two are or should be mutually exclusive either in form or ambition.

So – to the questions I was asked to consider

What criticisms do you have of GCSEs and the secondary curriculum in this country? What are its redeeming features?

What impact does the current curriculum and exam structure at 16 have on students, teachers, schools and parents?

“In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”     Martin Luther King 1969

The driving forces behind educational reform in the curriculum in the UK have, since the 1980s been driven by three key ideas:  the desire for Uniformity – all children should more or less be exposed to the same curriculum (hence the National Curriculum and the ambition for 90% take-up of the EBacc), the desire for Standardisation – all children should be taught to achieve and tested on the same (minimum) standards (hence Key stages and levels, SATS and GCSEs), and the desire for teacher and school Accountability – the above measures should be used to assess and compare (teacher and) school performance (hence league tables and the various performance measures – %5 pass grades at GCSE, %EBacc, Progress 8 etc). These principles aren’t necessarily bad in themselves but the emphasis on them has tended to exclude other ideas and the implementation of them has been damagingly over heavy. 

Most attempts at real curriculum reform, though periodically contemplated, have usually failed to reach the policy stage (most notably the great missed opportunity – the Tomlinson proposals for 14-19 education), diluted (Higginson’s proposed A-level reforms) or been quietly left on the margins (SEAL, PLTS). At the same time there is constant pressure for schools to deliver more – British Values, SMSC etc. Whilst the National Curriculum at KS3 has to some extent been relaxed to give schools and teachers a little more freedom for choice, innovation and creativity, that has been curtailed effectively at KS4 with the emphasis on EBacc and ‘harder GCSEs’ with 9 different grade levels. One irony is that the reform of Curriculum 2000 has effectively removed AS levels and a focus on three A-levels has left some real room for schools to be creative and innovative with the time freed up – and here is something that may provide models on which to build.

So what, then, of GCSEs and exams at 16?

GCSEs as individual subject specifications have value – indeed in terms of the aims and objectives and the specification content of individual subjects I can see much merit. For example, a Head of Physics when asked what he would change in terms of the course of study commented: ‘Nothing’. What is more the idea of providing some breadth and balance throughout a school career is a key mechanism for exposing students to different areas of experience and learning. My arguments against the GCSE system are less about their objectives and content (though arguably for some GCSEs there is too much content) than about the type and appropriateness of assessment of that content, the overall system of assessment ( exams in the same session at 16) and the constraints/effects that assessment has on teaching and learning and wider curriculum and educational concerns.

GCSEs were introduced by Kenneth Baker about 35 years ago along with the National Curriculum. The GCSEs were conceived as a school leaving  qualification. Kenneth Baker now thinks they should be abolished, not least because 16 is no longer the point at which students leave education. 

Whatever the merits of specific GCSEs, testing nearly all 16 year olds in 8, 10 or more subjects in a five week period when they may take 25 or more different exams when they will be staying on in education or training for at least another two years defies logic. I think I am right in saying that no other European country does this, nor do most education systems across the world. What is more the assumption that the best (even the only) effective way to assess the learning and progress of pupils in subjects is through a written exam taken under immense time pressure at the end of two (even three) years of study is false.

If GCSE examinations were not there, just reflect for a moment on the simple fact of the liberation of time that would bring …certainly, I would judge, in many cases perhaps a term and a half of potential learning and teaching time….  

Furthermore, the GCSE system has tended to result in an instrumental approach to teaching and learning – teachers teach to the test – many learners only want to learn about what will be tested and how to pass that specific test. The temptation to teach to the test is exacerbated by the fact that GCSEs are not only used to assess the learning of the individual students but are used as a key accountability tool for assessing teaching and the relative ‘effectiveness’ of schools – now through a variety of measures – %gaining EBacc, %5 pass grades, Progress 8 and so on. ‘Harder’ GCSEs and the extended grade range – from 9 – 1 have increased the pressure to achieve. Some schools begin GCSE courses in Y9 in order to cover the content and demands. At the top end where once there were three pass grades – A, B and C, then there were four with the addition of A* and now there are 6!  Why one needs or thinks it desirable to have 3 ‘fail’ grades and 6 ‘success’ grades is unclear and, furthermore, one can only suspect the decision to grade from 9 at the highest to 1 leads open the possibility of having a grade 10  or a grade 11 or a grade 12 to  differentiate further at the top end …   For the learner, for the teacher, for the school and for parents too GCSEs have become increasingly  ‘high stakes’ tests with all the pressures and emotional stress that involves. Certainly, whatever the other factors, exam pressures on adolescents, as every school counsellor will tell you, are a significant contributor to the increase in mental health issues for many.

GCSEs, as you would expect, dominate Years 10 and 11 (and to some extent Year 9) and fill the timetable to such an extent that other worthwhile educational experiences (including co-curricular activities) are often marginalised or disappear (especially in Y11) as the ‘exam’ focus and the pressure to perform drains motivation for, engagement in and even provision of, other possibilities.

And additionally the ambition to have 90% of students following the relatively narrow requirements of the EBacc is distorting teaching across the curriculum, limiting choice and damaging non- EBacc subjects. Reducing choice for students is also demotivating and arguably increases disengagement.  

And that is the final criticism – the GCSE system is a one size fits all approach that aims to cater for the lowest and the highest attainers. I am not convinced that even if a set of national assessments was appropriate for all at 16 that there should be a single assessment for all whatever their ability or progress.

As a final point it is worth noting that in some of the supposedly most successful school systems, for example in Singapore, South Korea, even China there is a move away from standardized high stakes testing and constraining curriculum in order to allow for more creativity, innovation, a more student-centred approach and wider educational goals. 

So I agree that a system of ‘high stake’ national exams taken by all students two years before the end of their education should go

What of the secondary curriculum more generally? Arguably one of the saving graces of the curriculum at KS3 and to a lesser extent at KS4 is that it combines breadth and balance which some would argue is vital given the specialism of 3 A-levels at KS5. From the beginning of its introduction under Kenneth Baker there have been calls to reduce the requirements of the National Curriculum at KS3 and to be fair there has been movement  here and there is a more flexibility and freedom of movement for schools and there have been moves to make the curriculum more relevant and to reflect the modern world – most obviously through computing, for example, but also through choice of content. That said there is constant pressure on the secondary curriculum to deliver more, be that in terms of Citizenship education, or in communicating British values, or in careers education, to name a few.

If we were to abandon a system of national exams at 16 (and reduce the demand of what is core), then we would have the opportunity for some serious curriculum review and reform that is urgently needed given the realities of the challenges of the present century. It is urgently needed.

COVID and opportunity …

The Covid-19 crisis and the subsequent closure or part closure of schools has created an unprecedented situation and what impresses is the way so many schools are adapting to the ‘new normal’ albeit often through trial and error. If nothing else it helps schools and teachers to learn more about the strengths and limitations of ‘on-line’ and ‘distance’ learning. But it has also provided opportunities for schools to experiment, get creative and explore some different ways and areas of learning with their students. The instinct is to try and replicate the school at home, but this is not straightforward even with the wonders of Google Suite for Education, Microsoft Teams and the like. There has been some imaginative and creative approaches adopted, for example, in providing new and different learning opportunities for Y11 and Y13 students and many schools I am aware of are also exploring opportunities for virtual international links and collaborations. We are all learning that it is possible to do things differently.

And, of course, Y11s and Y13s are not taking their exams …. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I quote here a recent blog by Professor Young Zhoa:

Stop and Rethink What’s Worth Teaching and Learning

We have a rare opportunity to examine what we have always been teaching (or trying to) for a number of reasons. First, Covid19 has forced the cancellation of many high stakes examinations students have been subject to, at least temporarily removing the pressure to teach to the test. Second, university admissions will have to rely on other evidence other than test scores and many universities have announced their decision not to use standardized test scores for making admission decisions. This may be temporary for some, but could be permanent for others as Covid19 accelerates the rate of universities dropping requirements of test scores. Third, governments and accrediting bodies cannot reasonably expect schools to comply with their prescribed curriculum during the crisis. Fourth, online education is not conducive to deliver high quality instruction of some traditionally valued subjects. Fifth, it is unethical and unjust to hold students accountable for learning the same things at the same rate and assessed by the same exams because their learning environments are so unequal as a result of their home background. Sixth, during this crisis, parents and the public are more concerned about the physical safety as well as social and emotional wellbeing than academic content, so should educators.

It is thus possible and necessary for policy makers, school leaders, teachers, and parents to seriously rethink: do we need to simulate school and teach everything that is supposed to be taught in school? Is it reasonable to demand that each and every student, despite his/her individual circumstances, learn the same thing at the same time as before? Is it in the best interest of students and teachers to require them to follow the same curriculum as if they were still in school?


“In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”     Martin Luther King 1969

So What Next? Or how could secondary education be improved ?….

So arguably the biggest obstacle to innovative, worthwhile educational change in the UK is the distorting impact of a national system of exams at 16. If we remove (or ignore?) that obstacle (and are willing to be still more flexible on the KS3 curriculum – as independent schools could be … taking account of, but not constrained by)  then we move to a situation where we have a relatively blank sheet of paper and a real chance to provide an approach to secondary education that will better meet the needs of our students in the present century. It is an opportunity to stand back and to ‘re-imagine’ education and the curriculum and make it more ‘fit for purpose’. My intention in what follows is to set out some ideas for going about rethinking the secondary curriculum building on some great initiatives both here and abroad, and what I have gleaned from my own experience and my own beliefs about education.

Our national system of exams at 16 may be a significant obstacle to innovation, flexibility and adaptability but there others that are equally constraining: the structures and organisation within schools with their year groups, class groups, terms, timetables, lesson lengths, the Chinese walls between ‘curriculum’, ‘traditional subject disciplines’, ‘extra/co-curriculum’, ‘pastoral’, ‘academic’ . These are what David Tyack and William Tobin referred to as the ‘grammar of schooling’ back in 1994: the assumed/unquestioned ‘regular structures and rules that organize the work of instruction’. Well, it is time to question them, and move, as Professor Yong Zhao argues, from the ‘grammar of schooling’ to a new ‘language of education’ and build a new ‘grammar’. We should not only challenge the rationale for compulsory exams at 16 but also the ‘grammar of schooling’ that inhibits innovation and the education of our young people. The design of a new curriculum should be flexible and adaptable to meet individual student needs and should not be bound by present conventions of timetable and year cohort structures.

And there is a growing consensus around the world about what that education should look like: a view that marries traditions of ‘holistic’ and subject based education with the context of the present day and that is present in the vision, aims and learner profiles of many schools already, if not in a curriculum that looks pretty much as it did in the early 20th century. 

In short a new curriculum needs to be flexible and adaptable in order to offer development not only of subject knowledge and understanding but also:

  1. A more personalised education, more tailored to individual student needs and involving greater student agency
  2. Character education
  3. Global and  21st Century Competencies
  4. Digital/Virtual World Competencies

A new curriculum also needs to be coherent and aligned across all aspects of a student’s educational experience.

The design of a new curriculum should be coherent … calibrated to school vision/aims, learner profile

I’m with Simon Sinek (Start with Why?, Penguin, 2009) in believing that the answer to this question must be the fundamental driver for what we do and how we do it. The answer will be different for each school but I suspect there will also be commonalities across many schools which may allow for collaboration, joint action and development.

Most schools will have a Mission/Vision statement and/or a number of aims and/or a learner profile that encapsulates their ‘why?’ I suspect that most schools will have a rationale that is about much more than exam results and I suspect, for example, the externally imposed ambition for 90% of students to achieve the Ebac does not get to the heart of what the school and its staff and parents believe the school is, or should be, about.

For me, and for many schools here and across the world, the purpose of education is to help students flourish as human beings (in the context of the contemporary world). It is a holistic view of education that draws on the Aristotelian idea of ‘eudaimonia’  a term which does not lend itself to straightforward definition – though often it is characterised by that phrase  ‘human flourishing’ or ‘thriving’. This encompasses personal wellbeing, and the development of ‘character’, of the knowledge, skills and dispositions to lead a fulfilling, worthwhile and personally and socially responsible life – a ‘good’ life in the virtuous sense, to help a student become the best they can be. This is not simply a ‘western’ liberal view but is reflected, albeit in different ways/forms,  in traditional approaches to education across the world (see Timothy Reagan, ‘Non-Western Educational Traditions’ , Routledge 2018).

For some schools the ‘holistic’ approach will be implicit in the curricular, co-curricular and pastoral arrangements and activities to varying degrees. Other schools are, or are becoming, much more explicit about this via mechanisms such as learner/student profiles, and/or identification, development and ‘assessment’ of ‘habits’ or dispositions/skills etc they seek to develop. For example, schools such as Latymer Upper have used their learner profile to identify ‘Habits of Heart, Head and Hand’ to guide and inform what they do and Round Square schools seek to encourage the Spirits of Internationalism, Democracy, Environmental stewardship (and sustainability), Adventure, Leadership and Service and to help students (deemed ‘explorers’) find and develop 12 positive attributes, skills and habits (deemed ‘Discoveries’). And, of course, a  holistic learner profile has always been at the heart of the IB approach. For many schools one of the drivers of such approaches is reflection on how education should better reflect demands of the 21st century ever-changing, interconnected world, the requirements of employers and the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for a fulfilling adult life. ‘21st century skills’ (most not 21st century) and ‘global competencies’ have been identified and are increasingly used to inform teaching and learning and student experiences. And in 2018 PISA included ‘Global competencies’ in its tests and Andreas Schleicher has become an advocate. 

Typically the lists of such ‘21st century’ skills and global competencies, however variously expressed, include , some or all of: 

Character attributes: emotional intelligence and empathy, self awareness, personal and social responsibility, resilience, growth mindset, (ethical/appropriate)leadership, courage, curiosity and love of learning, reflection/metacognition, desire to contribute positively to the world

21st century competencies: Critical thinking and problem-solving skills, communication skills, collaborative and teamworks skills, creativity and innovation, flexibility and adaptability

Global competencies: Intercultural understanding and knowledge and understanding of global interdependence, interconnectedness and globalisation, appreciation of diversity, service and service learning, commitment to sustainability, negotiation and conflict resolution skills

Digital competencies: Information and media literacy and responsibility,  digital and computing skills, ‘learning to live, learn, socialise and work in the virtual world’ 

Many of these skills and attributes are also those that are desired by employers . For example, Oly Newton (Edge Foundation) has identified creativity, communication skills, teamwork, and problem-solving  inter alia and  the World Economic Forum in its Schools of the Future pamphlet (Jan 2020)  ( ) has identified eight key areas for what it calls its Education 4.0 project:

  1. Global citizenship skills: Include content that focuses on building awareness about the wider world, sustainability and playing an active role in the global community.
  2. Innovation and creativity skills: Include content that fosters skills required for innovation, including complex problem-solving, analytical thinking, creativity and systems analysis.
  3. Technology skills: Include content that is based on developing digital skills, including programming, digital responsibility and the use of technology. 
  4. Interpersonal skills: Include content that focuses on interpersonal emotional intelligence, including empathy, cooperation, negotiation, leadership and social awareness.
  5. Personalized and self-paced learning: Move from a system where learning is standardized, to one based on the diverse individual needs of each learner, and flexible enough to enable each learner to progress at their own pace.
  6. Accessible and inclusive learning: Move from a system where learning is confined to those with access to school buildings to one in which everyone has access to learning and is therefore inclusive.
  7. Problem-based and collaborative learning: Move from process-based to project- and problem-based content delivery, requiring peer collaboration and more closely mirroring the future of work.
  8. Lifelong and student-driven learning: Move from a system where learning and skilling decrease over one’s lifespan to one where everyone continuously improves on existing skills and acquires new ones based on their individual needs.

And the CBI, in its latest skills survey report ( has stressed:

The importance of a broad and balanced education system that equips students with the character, knowledge, and skills needed to adapt to the changing nature of work is critical. This matters most for communities and people from difficult or less advantaged backgrounds and places.’

The design of a new curriculum should be Comprehensive – encompassing all aspects of the educational experience a school provides

Whatever a school’s ‘why?’, it should be the foundation and driver of educational and curriculum thinking in the school and the term ‘curriculum’ should be used loosely to encompass all that the school’s education provides – (in the widest sense – i.e. encompassing not just the formal timetabled curriculum but also the co-curriculum and pastoral provision)  – and the way it delivers it (e.g. pedagogical practice). The curriculum (in the widest sense) should be reverse engineered from that ‘why’ and at least should be carefully calibrated to it to ensure coherence and a common ambition.  

The design of a new curriculum should combine the very best of  the traditional and the modern

None of this is to belittle nor decry the need for traditional subject knowledge and disciplines, and co-curricular activities. It would be hard to envisage a school that did not offer sciences, humanities, arts, technology, languages, music, sport etc  in some form or other. Certainly, for me, the ambition should be to maintain the best of the traditional and accommodate the best of the modern. Students should be introduced ‘to the best that has been thought and said’ and the different subject disciplines with their distinctive ways of examining the world. That ‘powerful knowledge’ is the bedrock of academic provision and a key medium through which pupils are exposed to new experiences, ways of thinking and understanding about humanity and the world about them. That said, there does need to be some recalibration because knowledge is not static and is constantly evolving.

Traditional subjects and activities can, often do, and, certainly, should contribute to the development of the approaches, attributes and skills referred to above, but there needs to be a deliberate intention to do so and a willingness to examine and flex subject/activity content and pedagogies to accommodate them and make them explicit. There also needs to be, I would argue, distinctive space to be found in education provision for new areas of knowledge, and approaches to learning – be that outside the present National Curriculum at KS3, or across subjects or realignment within them. Traditional subject disciplines are important but much new knowledge crosses boundaries, or at least, draws on different disciplines and that interconnectedness and interdependence could be explored –   and then there are the new areas – nanotechnology, genetics, AI etc. There needs to be room for experiential learning, project and problem-based ‘real world’ learning where students can draw on and apply what they have learned in different subjects and the relevant expertise of others – teachers, parents and outside agencies. And there needs to be room for students to explore and follow their passions – some student agency, for example, in selecting and exploring questions they wish to answer with support and guidance as appropriate.

The design of a new curriculum should be mindful of the context in which the school operates

Thinking through your ‘why?’ is a necessary and critical starting point, reference and driver to curriculum provision but it is not sufficient. Curriculum design should also have in its design concern for the following:

  1. Student wellbeing
  2. Student Agency and the flexibility to respond to individual needs and learning pathways
  3. Responsiveness to and connection with  the school community, local needs
  4. Relevance and responsiveness to the ‘real world’ and contemporary contexts (not least the Fourth industrial Revolution)
  5. International and global connection and intercultural understanding/collaboration
  6. Developments in Neuroscience in relation to Adolescence (that may indicate a restructuring of a typical school day, for example)

The design of a new curriculum should start from where the school is now 

If a school has a clear vision and set of aims and/or learner profile/breakdown of attributes, skills, areas of experience it wants to develop it is useful to map these against what the school already does to see where it is strong (e.g. probably in areas like critical thinking)  and where it is weaker – this may help to point where the school needs to consider change and development.  It is one way for evaluating how far a school may be making effective provision to achieve its ambitions. A school may also consider explicitly linking key aspects to key (co-curricular and curricular) activities to help guide student choices. This mapping exercise can be reassuring because it may show staff how much is already being done, what may need tweaking and then areas that need to be developed.

A very useful indicator of how to review a curriculum in the light of present imperatives can be found in the work of the Centre for Curriculum Re-Design ( a good starting point here is their book by Charles Fadel and others, ‘Four Dimensional Education’ which considers the whys, whats and hows of curriculum design. Some related but alternative design principles are offered by the OECD Learning Compass project.

The design of a new curriculum should draw on the ‘best’ of what has already been done and implemented both in the UK and around the world

Research should be a foundation of any curriculum review: we need to learn from the best of what is known and done. In looking for alternative ways to think about , implement and structure a new curriculum, schools will find numerous wonderful initiatives and ideas implemented elsewhere (in the UK and internationally) that may be of relevance and of use to them in their thinking. They are worth examining to inform thinking. Within the UK there are some radical approaches that may resonate. XP Doncaster and School21 are two such examples, both driven by a clear vision. For example, XP’s guiding principles of ‘Character’ and ‘Quality Work’ are reflected in a curriculum organised through cross-curricular ‘Learning Expeditions’ based on searching questions – an approach that is carried through all the way to the January of Y11 – and only then is the focus on specific preparation to take (at least a) a core of 8 GCSEs. Other schools have developed alternatives to GCSE.  Schools such as Bedales and Sevenoaks have developed their own alternatives to GCSEs that offer different experiences and better meet the needs of their students. And such schools are not alone. Many schools have innovated at KS3 with courses aimed at new areas of learning, of some element of global education, or they have adjusted curriculum time to accommodate ‘off-timetable’ days or weeks for  themed learning, problem-solving collaborative exercises, experiential and real world learning or adventure challenges and activities. And in the Sixth Form many schools have also innovated. Indeed the recent reforms in A-levels have given many schools the impetus to reinvent their 6th Forms with the space left by the ‘4th AS level’ being used in creative ways which may provide another model for extension backwards down the school. For example, Latymer Upper School redesigned its sixth form curriculum around the principle of a Core and an Electives programme, with the Core including 3 A levels, Service, Knowledge and Research Skills, Life Skills, Games, and a learning journal and a wide range of teacher-designed, non-traditional elective courses and a research project, all of which, including accrediting of co-curricular activities, lead to a school leaving diploma awarded at Distinction, Merit or Pass levels. 

And that notion of core and electives is perhaps a model worth exploring further – certainly in relation to 14-19 education and when combined with an approach that reimagines traditional structures and provides for much greater flexibility and choice so that students can find motivating and challenging individual pathways. In Canada, Ontario State education, for example, operates a system of core and electives for the final four years of secondary education – to graduate students must gain 30 plus credits (18 compulsory/core) plus 40 hours of community engagement.

Many private schools in the US also operate various systems of credits – with a compulsory core of varying degrees. Some have chosen to break the link between age and stage – i.e. classes may contain students from different age groups according to their level of mastery/progress. What is more credited courses may operate on a termy/semester basis – e.g. 10 weeks of relatively intensive study rather than a whole year of less frequent teaching and learning. Typically a student in grades 9-12 will take 5 or 6 courses per semester, plus a range of co-curricular activities – this can be of real benefit to students (they are not trying to juggle the demands of 10 or more subjects each week) and teachers (they take fewer classes for longer). Choice and flexibility are drivers in the approach – so Phillips Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire offers over 400 elective courses and students agree their programmes with a student adviser.

Even more radical is the approach of schools like Templestowe College, a state school in Victoria, Australia where student agency lies at the heart of what they do. After an introductory year students choose their courses of study from their ‘Flexible Learning Environment’ and can suggest (and are then supported) courses and subjects they wish to study – so there are, for example, courses in computer game design and Geek (sic) Studies. If a subject or course is not on offer the school will do its best to provide or empower the student to undertake a Personalised Learning Project. Again the link between age and stage is broken. And you may also have heard of the Independent Project – an option within the Monument Mountain Regional High School in the US – a semester long programme (a school within the school) where students plan, design and organise their own learning in three elements – weekly questions (they choose) based on one of 4 curriculum areas – English, Maths, Natural Sciences or Social Sciences; a semester long Individual Endeavour and a three week long Collective Endeavour. Another innovative school is Ivanhoe Grammar School in Australia that complements its core curriculum with cross-disciplinary enquiries, experiential learning, service and a personal project; what is more the equivalent of our Y10 students spend that year on a university campus with a distinctive programme. Markham College in Peru complements their core curriculum with their HELIX and IMPACT programmes. The Helix Programme stands for Holistic, Experiential learning, Leadership, International citizenship & the X-Factor and offers a range of activities to meet those ambitions – the X-Factor is to help students find and pursue a passion. IMPACT lessons encourage students to apply their classroom knowledge to solve real-world issues and become positive agents of change. Working closely with experts from the school community, this authentic learning experience challenges students to be creative, reflective and become the best version of themselves.There are other schools that you may well have heard of like Hi-tech High schools in the US  and the Green School in Bali that are animated by different visions of education resulting in innovative, and by all accounts successful, practice. 

The design of a new curriculum should be flexible and adaptable to meet individual student needs and should not be bound by present conventions of timetable and year cohort structures

However administratively convenient and seemingly efficient, the present typical organisation of schools in the ‘factory model’  – year groups, regular classes, short, standardized timetabled lessons , year or two year long programmes of study should be re-thought. It’s a model for a different era, designed for uniformity and, perhaps, to use a Napoleonic phrase ‘to cast a whole generation in the same mould’. Many schools have tinkered with the system, introducing ‘off-timetable’ weeks or days, introducing two week timetables or longer lessons in order to try and bring some flexibility, accommodate particular areas and approaches to learning, and more effective learning to bear – but the basic ‘grammar’ remains. It seems to me, when you examine the most innovative schools here and approaches adopted abroad, it is possible to find ways more suited to the ambition of an education better adapted to the priorities of the present. Project and problem-based learning approaches often need substantial intensive time; working with employers and the community similarly may require a different approach to the standardised timetable slot; experiential learning/outside visits presently often means disruption of the ‘normal’ timetable (hence some moves toward things like Activity Weeks or Days); whilst language teachers may (not universally) advocate ‘little and often’, for many areas of learning, especially if practical and /or enquiry-based, much longer sessions of time are optimum. It seems to me the organisation of time , especially from Y9 onwards, around 5 or 6 or 7 courses per week for  each ‘term’ (or ten week period) would have considerable educational merit. An additional benefit of such an approach is that more courses and choices can be offered and students can have more chance to find their interests because they are not committing (in the elective element at any rate) to two years of study. Furthermore, if we became much more willing to move away from age-related cohorts, especially after Y9, and moved towards a mastery and progress based provision we could better meet the needs of individual students. And finally, the assumption that all teaching has to be to classes of 30 (or whatever number) irrespective of the educational purpose needs challenging, too. For some purposes (e.g. where basic information giving or  instruction is provided this could be done to several ‘classes’ at once ; for discussion a smaller seminar unit may be appropriate ; for other purposes small group, pair or individual tuition may be needed. Education should drive the mechanism not the other way round.

The design of a new curriculum should empower schools and teachers and trust their professionalism

Schools know their communities best, and working with them, they can provide an education best suited to the needs of that community and its young people. What impresses me about most schools is the overriding concern to do the best by their students, but they feel constrained by relatively inflexible requirements imposed upon them.My experience of curriculum innovation is that once teachers are trusted and empowered they, working together, can come up with well thought-through exciting and effective courses and approaches that are also popular with students and parents. Such innovations at my old school, Latytmer Upper, for example include their Global Goals and World Perspectives courses (Y9-11) and the wonderful range of well over 30 ten week elective courses offered in the Form (including curses as divers as Anthropology, International Development (involving international collaboration with two other schools and a service project), Medical Ethics, Effective Altruism, Game Theory, Parasitic and Tropical Disease etc, etc.

The design of a new curriculum should not be bound by present systems of assessment and accountability

Clearly assessment is an important part of the learning process and its outcomes. And a ‘terminal’ exam in the traditional sense, may be an appropriate part of an answer to assessing what a student knows, understands and can do for some areas of learning,  but it is not, however seemingly efficient, a complete answer in any subject area or at all in some. Summative assessment should be both timely (e.g. at end of topic) and appropriate to what you are trying to assess. It may be that a written report or a coursework essay may be appropriate, or it may be a portfolio of work, it may be in a mixed media format, it may be an artefact and accompanying explanation, it may be an oral presentation and q and a with an audience, it may be continuous or terminal, etc.  A key question may be what is the best way for the student to demonstrate mastery or progress in their learning?

My prejudice is that any overarching grading system for a course, unit or diploma should be simple and straightforward – e.g. pass, merit, distinction – rather than over complex.

How should schools be held to account? It seems to me the most effective and fairest approach is an inspection framework focused on quality rather than quantity  – i.e. not bald  exam percentages and league tables and the key question should be how well does this school meet the needs of its students and community?


You will have detected from the above that the kind of curriculum development I believe is needed and urgent, is quite radical. It is not enough to re-organise or realign years 10 and 11 more or less along existing lines but without terminal examinations. We must challenge the ‘grammar of schooling’ and introduce  a ‘new’ language of education if we are to meet the needs of our young people growing up in the ever-changing, globalised world, if we are to help them to thrive and flourish as individuals, citizens and contributors to the progress and wellbeing of society.  I suspect there will be many who will agree and say ‘Yes’ to much of the above… but they may also say, ‘but’ and list the obstacles and difficulties. Well those aren’t to be underestimated and any change will I think need to be bottom up rather than top down – to create a movement. Success will depend on a mindset that is willing to rise to the challenge, to take risks and to work to persuade – to move from ‘yes, but’ to ‘Yes and so ….’ There is an opportunity and urgent need. We should draw inspiration from the words of John F Kennedy in 1961:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” J. F. Kennedy 1961

Select Reading List:

Simon Sinek, Start with Why? (2009)

Valerie Hannon, Thrive: Schools Reinvented for the Real Challenges We Face, (2017)

Charles Fadel et al., Four-Dimensional Education: The Competencies Learners Need To Succeed, (2015)

Young Zhao and Brian Gearin (Ed), Imagining the Future of Global Education:  Dreams and Nightmares, (2018)

Lucy Crehan, Clever Lands, (2016)

Fernando Reimer and Connie Chung (Ed), Teaching and Learning for the Twenty First Century:  Educational Goals, Policies, and Curricula from Six Nations (2016)

Timothy Reagan, Non-Western Educational Traditions, (2018)

CBI/Pearson Skills Report 2019 Education and Learning For the Modern World

Edge Foundation: Our Plan for 14-19 Education: Coherent, Unified, Holistic, 2017

Kenneth Baker, 14-19 Education, A new Baccalaureate (Edge Foundation)

Innovation Unit, Re-Imagining Education Together, (2019)

OECD The Future of Learning and Skills, Education 2030

OECD Future of Learning and Skills, OECD Learning Compass 2030 (

Ted Dintersmith, What School Could Be, (2018) , Educating for Global Competence: Preparing our Youth to Engage the World

The Tomlinson Report, 2004, The Independent Project Templestowe College Paul Hutton talks about Templestowe College

Yong Zhao, Trina E. Emler, Anthony Snethen, Danqing Yin: An Education Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: How Radical Changes Can Spark Student Excitement and Success (2019)